Mary Queen of Scots


Mary Stewart was born December 8, 1542 at Linlithgow Palace to King James V of Scotland and his French wife Mary of Guise.  Six days after her birth, her father suffered a nervous collapse after defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss and died.  As the only surviving legitimate child, Mary was crowned Queen of Scots on Sept 9, 1543.

Henry VIII, King of England, proposed that England and Scotland should be united through the marriage of Mary to his son Edward.  Initially, they agreed.  Cardinal Beaton rose to power and pushed a pro-Catholic and French agenda.  Henry wanted to break alliance with France and the papacy and began arresting Scottish ships heading for France claiming that they were not allowed to trade there.  This angered the people and the marriage proposal was rejected.  Henry responded with his "rough wooing" to impose the marriage.  He raided Scottish and French territory until 1551.  Mary of Guise turned to the French for help.  French King Henry II proposed the marriage of Mary to his 3 year old son to unite France and Scotland.  She agreed.  Mary was sent to France at the age of 5.  She became known in France as Marie Stuart instead of Mary Stewart.  April 24, 1558, she married the Dauphin Francis at Notre Dame in Paris.

After Mary I of England died, Henry II of France proclaimed that his son and Mary were the king and queen of England. Mary was next in line to the English throne after her father's cousin Elizabeth I. Many Catholics believed that since Elizabeth was illegitimate (they believed that Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn was illegal), Mary was the rightful heir. The last will & testament of Henry VIII excluded the Stuarts from succeeding to the English throne.  When the Dauphin's father died, Mary became the Queen consort of France and the Dauphin became King Francis II.

In December 1560, Francis died of an ear infection.  Mary returned to Scotland in August 1561.  Scotland was divided between the Catholics and Protestants.  Mary was Catholic, Elizabeth I was Protestant. Mary wanted to calm the tension with England and invited Elizabeth to visit.  She refused.  Mary put in a case for her claim to the throne.  Arrangements were made for the two to meet in England in Sept 1562, but Elizabeth cancelled.  Elizabeth suggested that Mary should wed Robert Dudley whom Elizabeth trusted and could control.  Mary refused.

In July 1565, Mary married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, her cousin. Elizabeth was threatened by this union as they both had a claim to the throne as direct descendents of Margaret Tudor, elder sister of Henry VIII.

Darnley became arrogant and jealous of Mary's friendship with her secretary.  Darnley had him killed in front of pregnant Mary.  Darnley and Mary's son James was born June 19, 1566. Mary had met with Scottish nobles to discuss divorcing Darnley.  The following February, Darnley was resting at home when an explosion occurred. Darnley was found dead in the garden, appearing to have been strangled.  It was believed that James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell has arranged this.  He was acquitted of the charges. 

In April, Mary was abducted by Bothwell. They returned to Edinburgh in May and were married.  The Scottish nobility was against this union and raised an army.  Mary was imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle where she miscarried twins in July.  She was then forced to abdicate the Scottish throne to her one year old son.  She escaped in May the following year and fled to England hoping for help from her cousin Queen Elizabeth.  Elizabeth ordered her arrest and she was imprisoned at Carlisle Castle.  In July 1568 she was moved to Bolton Castle where she stayed until January when she was moved to Tutbury Castle.

Elizabeth ordered an inquiry into whether Mary should be tried for the murder of Darnley.  Elizabeth did not want to convict Mary of murder nor acquit her.  Mary refused the power of any court to try her since she was an anointed Queen.  The man in charge of the prosecution was acting as regent for her son and wanted to prevent restoring Mary to the throne.  The Rodolfi plot of 1570 was a plot to assassinate Elizabeth to put Mary on the throne. Mary denied having anything to do with the plot.  Elizabeth introduced a document that prevented any would-be successor from profiting from her murder. 

Mary was confined for 19 years. Much of it was spent in Sheffield Castle and Sheffield Manor.  Eventually, Elizabeth decided that she was too much of a liability and had Mary put on trial for treason after she was implicated in the Babington Plot to kill Elizabeth.  Mary denied this. The trial lasted for 2 days and on Oct 16, 1586 Mary was convicted of treason and sentenced to beheading.  Elizabeth hesitated to actually order the execution.  She was afraid that Mary's son may form an alliance with France and Spain to invade England as revenge. Eventually she did sign the death warrant. 

At Fotheringhay Castle on February 7, 1587 Mary was told that she would be executed the next day.  She spent her last hours in prayer, writing letters, and her will.  She asked for her servants' release and that she be buried in France.

Feb 8, 1587, Mary's executioners helped her remove her black outer gown to reveal a bright red chemise underneath, which was the color of martyrdom in the Catholic Church.  She was blindfolded and knelt down on a cushion in front of the block.  She put her head on the block and stretched out her arms behind her.  The first blow of the axe missed her neck and struck the back of her head. The second blow severed most of her neck except a small bit that the executioner sawed off with his axe.  He then lifted her head above the crowd and as he said "God Save the Queen", the red hair came apart from the head and it fell to the ground.  Mary's small terrier dog had been hiding under her gown during the execution and refused to leave.  It was eventually taken away by her ladies in waiting and the blood washed off it.

There was a time when Mary claimed the crowns of Scotland, France, England, and Ireland.  She was known for her physical beauty and kind heart.  She was popular with the common people, but less so with the nobility.

In 1603, Elizabeth died and Mary's son James succeeded her on the throne becoming King James VI of Scotland and King James I of England.  He ruled England, Scotland and Ireland for 22 years until his death in 1625.  In 1612, he had moved Mary's body to Westminster Abbey in London and created a magnificent tomb.  Mary's and Elizabeth's tombs are side by side in Westminster Abbey, but separated by the nave of the chapel, out of each other's sight.


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